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Coastal Shipping

Volume 649: debated on Wednesday 15 November 1961

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31.

asked the Minister of Transport what plans he has to stop the number of British ships engaged in coastwise shipping from shrinking further; and if he will make a statement.

I am aware of the decline in the number of British ships engaged in coastwise shipping. Nevertheless, I do not consider that this situation is such as to call for special measures by the Government at the present time, apart from the provision which has been made for coastal shipping in the Transport Bill at present before the House. I am, however, keeping the position under close review and will continue to do so.

I think that that is an unsatisfactory Answer. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the disastrous contraction in the size of our shipping fleet is having very grave repercussions on, amongst other things, our small ports? Will he not now take steps to see that our coastwise trade is carried only by ships which fly the British flag unless there are reciprocal agreements, and will he in any case take steps to see that the proper manning scales are fulfilled in foreign ships plying round our coasts?

I must say that I have not had any request from the General Council of British Shipping to exclude foreign vessels from the coasting trade. If we were to do this it would be a very serious step indeed.

Is the Minister aware that we on this side of the House, too, share the concern expressed by his hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne), that coastwise shipping is a necessary part of our transport industry, and that it should be possible for the Minister to decide as a practical matter, if he wants so to do, that certain types of traffic ought to be taken on the sea to relieve our over-congested roads? Is he aware that we need something more than his looking at the matter? Will he make a statement to give us some idea exactly what is going on?

Competition between road, rail and coastwise shipping can be discussed on the Bill which will be introduced next week, that is, the Transport Bill. I am bound to say that in 1960, for the first time in many years, the tonnage of cargoes carried in United Kingdom vessels in the non-coal tramp trades increased.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the coastal shipping people are anything but satisfied with what is now in the Transport Bill, and will he have the courage to stand up and tell the House what is the position? Is he aware that unless we are to get more protection for coastwise shipping I myself at any rate have no intention of voting for the Bill?

In answer to the last part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, the next time my hon. Friend supports me will be the first time. The answer to the first part of the supplementary question is that we could debate that next week.

In order to encourage the smaller ports, will my right hon. Friend do all he can to improve the communications to those ports, as certainly much more encouragement is needed in that sphere?

I am quite certain that that is a good point, and Lord Rochdale and his Committee are looking at that particular point.